Yep, It’s *Dr.* Cleto & *Dr.* Warman

December 12, 2020

By now, you might have seen the nasty, clearly-meant-to-be-controversial clickbait Wall Street Journal opinion piece “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” by Joseph Epstein. (We’re not going to link it, because of course that’s exactly what they want, but you can find it easily if you really want to. Heads up that it might appear to be behind a paywall, but you just have to click the X in the upper right corner of the popup to read it regardless. Honestly, we really don’t recommend it. If you haven’t already subjected yourself to it, don’t bother: we hit the highlights below.) This sexist, classist, self-aggrandizing filth has been circulating quite a bit, and it made us personally so angry that we decided to use this space to write a response.

Here are, briefly, just a few of the things in the article that are wildly infuriating –

The idea that the only real doctors are the ones who deliver children – A “wise man” apparently told this to the author at some point, but it is, of course, ridiculous. Cancer doctors aren’t doctors? The people who study infectious diseases like COVID-19 aren’t doctors? This is to say nothing of all the (yes, very legitimate) non-medical doctorates out there. Also, heads up dude, people with uteruses deliver children, doctors attend.

Belittling her (actually very important sounding) dissertation about community colleges – This reeks of classism. Dr. Biden’s “unpromising” dissertation was actually on student retention at community colleges, and it’s incredibly important work for anyone who believes in the democratizing of education. Heck, anyone who believes in education PERIOD. Mocking her project, which is backed up by years of experience and work in her field, is unconscionable. Further, this is more evidence of how Education is belittled in the US. We can’t help but wonder if her doctorate had been in, say, Astrophysics, if this guy would have been quite so insistent that she should drop the title.

The equating of an honorary doctorate with an actual earned PhD or EdD – They are not the same thing. At all. And deliberately writing as if they are is absurd. Also, the author (who has an honorary degree, not an earned one) is clearly betraying his own insecurities, no?

The bemoaning about the lack of standards in PhD programs this guy never even attended – Again, bull. Classist bull. In English studies, this would be the classic old man whining that we should be studying only Latin and Shakespeare and not, to cite only a few examples, indigenous writers, queer studies, the Internet, contemporary linguistic patterns, folklore, etc. Just because you don’t agree with what people study doesn’t mean standards for those subjects aren’t incredibly high.

“KIDDO”?! – Wow. Just wow. Why not slap her on the rear and call it a day? Classic rhetoric meant to subtly remind you that, oh yes, she is a GIRL and we should therefore treat her as such.

And there’s so much more. Plus this is to say nothing of the photograph they paired with the piece, which is clearly meant to show her looking self-important and/or (dare we say it) PROUD.

[WSJ Photo of Dr. Jill Biden by Martha Asencio Rhine/Zuma Press]

Because heaven forbid she should ever be proud.

As we mentioned in the first line, we do recognize that the piece is meant to be infuriating. The guy writing it is, apparently, notorious for this kind of writing. The WSJ is trying to get clicks and furious responses, much like this post, though we imagine that there will be several much higher profile ones in the next few days if there aren’t already. We’re writing this on the day the opinion appeared, but we wouldn’t be surprised if, by the time it goes live, there were already a follow up opinion published by the WSJ itself as well. The response on Twitter was immediate, with many PhDs, especially women, going ahead and adding “Dr.” to their names on that platform in response.

We have had “Dr.”s before our names on this website for quite a while, but we’re not going to lie, it was a deliberate choice that we gave a lot of thought to before doing. Would we come off as snobby? Would people think we were puffing ourselves up too much? Would students be turned off by perceived elitism? Would they think Carterhaugh wasn’t for them because they never went to college or didn’t have an advanced degree? Lastly, and most horrifically, was it potentially wiser (particularly from a publicity/marketing standpoint) for two young-ish women with PhDs to appear less intelligent and therefore less threatening (even when they were promoting an online school??)

A woman at a live event we lectured at certainly thought so. She came up to us after we finished speaking to advise us to drop the “Dr.”s before our names because it made us sound “unapproachable” and “hostile.” Two girls such as ourselves should come off as friendly and easy to talk to, not doctors.

She meant this advice kindly… but it only cemented what we already knew: Women who don’t actively hide their intelligence and ambition are all too often read as unladylike. Off-putting. Even a little monstrous. How dare we step out of our lane, right?

It’s important that we use these titles. We earned them. In a world that’s constantly asking women to be less, to be smaller, to act dumber, to play to men’s egos, to stick to the background, it’s imperative that we use them. We worked SO hard for them. It took us EIGHT YEARS of graduate school, in three different universities, to earn them. They signify our expertise. They signify our status as teachers. We should NOT apologize for them (see this fantastic blog post by our friend Dr. L.E. Carmichael on this very subject!) They show the world who we are and what we value. And that’s a big deal.

We very much hope Dr. Biden insists on being called “Dr.” as first lady. She has earned it.


  1. Marcia

    His piece was so clearly sexist and stupid. Yours, on the other hand, is amazing!
    Use your title proudly! You deserve it!

  2. Maryn Boess

    Yes, yes, yes to all of this. And by now – you’re right! The WSJ “opinions editor” has now published his own response, doubling down on the original bash-piece and continuing the snarky tone against those who rose up in defense of doctors. Notably resorting to that enfuriating phrase “cancel culture” to try to quash the legitimate voices of people who legitimately speak out against completely oppressive, smirkish, unfounded, uninformed and unintelligent opinions. I did used to respect the WSJ but since Murdoch took over in 2007 …. nope.

  3. Jody Helme-Day

    Ugh…the pathetic last gasp of a mediocre academic gets a platform, again. *eyeroll*

    I am glad you both use your well-earned “Dr.” in front of your names. It is time to stop making people, especially women, feel they have to downplay their accomplishments to be “approachable”. If you feel someone is unapproachable because of a title, that is your issue, not theirs. We should celebrate each other’s accomplishments, not shame them.

    With that sentiment in mind, you both have my admiration for what you have accomplished in your education and for what you have created here in Carterhaugh. Thank you for giving us folklore and story nerds a place to indulge our passion and connect with each other. Merry Yule to you both!

  4. Gayle F Cunningham

    I am so proud to be acquainted with persons such as yourselves, even if from a distance. And when I first saw the “Dr.” in front of each of your names, I only felt warm and hopeful because you were sharing your knowledges and experiences with us. So there’s that.

    I haven’t read the moronic, ultra-right wing tirade by someone who obviously lives in some Stepford Wives/John Birch Society misbegotten alternate universe. I’ve seen bits of it from folks who know exactly what I think of people such as the pathetic individual who decided to insult and entire gender when he picked up his poison pen. (I commiserate with the pen.)

    Anyone who’s grown up, just plain grown up, knows that the blind ‘respect the title and never question’ age stops when a person starts to realize the incredible effort and absolute dedication required to earn ANY doctorate. That’s the point when true respect and understanding replace childish ‘because “they” say I have to” reactions.

    That women have had to battle for distinction in academia, in medicine, in engineering, in family management and care (the list goes on) is historic fact. That time has rendered archaic and obsolete the opinions of the ‘click-bait’ writer (I now Know what that IS – I didn’t before!) is also fact.

    I grew up during the late 40s, 50s and 60s and 70s and…well you get my drift. (There are a lot of people who say I’m still growing up. I can’t disagree…) and I saw the fight for the changes. I remember them well. And I know I didn’t appreciate them enough, those first women who battled for what should have been their unalienable right. I think I’m better about that now…

    Mr. “Kiddo” (My ears went flat back at that), of coursee, failed himself in a number of ways. And has written something I would expect to have seen in a 1953 op-ed in a small minded, narrowly focused magazine. The platform is not relevant. The small-minded is. Poor lad definitely has issues, and not just with the honaray doctorate he is (according to him) not earned.

    I certainly will not locate or respond to whomever this person is. Well, unless he’s cranky because someone took his cookie, at which point I’ll return him to his crib for a nap.

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